After a week-long whistle-stop tour of central India‘s least-visited attractions, travel writer and photographer Lottie Gross shares her favourite photos.
India is undoubtedly a beautiful country. It presents such an array of interesting scenes and stunning landscapes, taking pictures is irresistible. But this vast country also poses great challenges for photographers: there are so many people, such enormous sights, such a long, rich history – how do you portray this through a lens?
On my most recent trip in central South India, I was faced with such challenges. The journey I took – overland from Hyderabad, through Karnataka and on to Goa – was overflowing with photogenic moments and mind-boggling historical sights.
Once a Muslim stronghold in a predominantly Hindu country, this area of the Deccan plateau is littered with stunning mausoleums, mosques, minarets and forts whose stories simply cannot be communicated through images alone. There are tales of love, life, war and loss to discover through the architectural wonders here; if some believe a picture paints a thousand words, it must be said that in India it only tells half the story.
Here’s the story behind some of South India’s underrated places:
Arriving in Hyderabad – the capital of India’s newest state, Telangana – on the weekend is perhaps one of the biggest culture shocks you can get in India. Hundreds of shoppers come out to browse and barter the Laad bazaar, where thousands of bangles twinkle on the wall displays in shops and on stalls. This is the view from Charminar – a quad of minarets connected by a balcony, built by the Qutb Shahi dynasty in 1591 to mark the city’s surviving of a plague. It’s a stunning piece of architecture to behold, but the prize is reaching the top of the minarets to look out over the city’s throbbing arteries.
Once the capital of the Qutb Shahi empire, the impressive Golconda Fort sits 11km west of modern Hyderabad. Spread across four square kilometres, it’s a prime example of fourteenth-century Islamic architecture in central India, with stone arches, minarets and palaces to explore throughout. The panorama from the top provides an interesting view of the old-meets-new cityscape that’s so common throughout India.
The Qutb Shahi dynasty ruled what was known as the Golconda kingdom from 1512–1687 and during that time built a number of mausoleums, mosques and fortifications. Near Golconda fort lies a complex of enormous bulbous-domed tombs that hold the bodies of the dynasty’s most important kings and their families. This tomb houses one king’s favourite dancer and sits alongside a tomb for his favoured singer – an interesting insight into the politics within the dynasty.
Among the tombs scattered across the complex are a series of small mosques. This is the interior of The Great Mosque – a small but pretty structure with charming little frescoes around its vaulted ceilings.
Sitting on Karnataka’s border with Telangana, the small town of Bidar sits firmly off the beaten track, but that’s what makes it such a fun place to wander around. Strolling along one of its main roads leads to all manner of interactions, as clothes shops spill out onto the street, selling everything from saris to jeans to underwear, and vendors brew sweet cups of milky chai and street snacks from their carts. This is pau bhaji – India’s answer to the UK’s chip butty: mashed potato mixed with spices and vegetables inside a soft, sweet, butter-slathered bun. It’s the ultimate Indian comfort food.
Built by the Bahamani Sultanate in 1424, Bidar fort spreads itself out northeast of the modern town and is still used today as a thoroughfare to a residential area. After rains, the grasses are a bright green contrast to the red stones structure, while the landscaped gardens inside make for a pleasant stroll – especially in the early morning when there are few visitors around.
Bijapur (also known as Vijayapura) is a pleasantly laidback city in the north of Karnataka, which sees few visitors stick around except to see its most famous monument: Golgumbaz. But spend a little more time here and you’ll discover gorgeous green spaces and this colourful bazaar, which is teeming with local shoppers by night. These are marigold necklaces, often used to decorate the Hindu gods and goddesses in temples or as a love charm at weddings.
The main draw for visitors to Bijapur, Gol Gumbaz is visible well before you even get there, its perfectly-shaped dome crowning over the horizon like a rising sun. Completed in 1656, it took 30 years to build and is now the mausoleum of Mohammed Adil Shah, a sultan of the ancient city. Its enormous dome houses the “whispering gallery”, which carries even the slightest of sounds all the way along its surface to the other side.
In contrast to many of Karnataka’s attractions, Badami’s main draw is a Hindu site: a trio of astonishing cave temples hewn out around 550 AD. Set on a sandstone hill, the interiors are decorated with reliefs depicting Hindu gods and statues – including the only 18-armed Shiva in the country.
From the caves you can see the town spread out westward, with ancient temples and mausoleums dotting the landscape.
Badami’s old town makes for a pleasant walk in late afternoon. It’s a chance to see small-town living in India up close: modest, low-rise homes are tightly packed together along the edge of the reservoir, where locals go wash their dishes and clothes.
East of Badami, the tiny village of Pattadakal has little to offer visitors save for its impressive collection of seventh- and eighth-century temples. Built by the Chalukya dynasty, the pink-hued structures are a unique mix of North and South Indian architecture and make for a fascinating morning’s visit.
Lottie travelled with Explore, who run a 14-day Treasures of Central India trip from £1,659 per person, including flights, 12 nights’ accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis, transport and the services of an Explore Leader, driver and local guides.